William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 3

— 1.3 —

Thunder sounded as the Three Witches met in an uncultivated field.

“Where have you been, sister?” the First Witch said.

“Killing swine — to waste food for mortals,” the Second Witch replied.

The Third Witch then asked the First Witch, “Where have you been, sister?”

The First Witch replied, “A sailor’s wife had chestnuts in her lap, and she munched, and munched, and munched. ‘Give me your chestnuts,’ I demanded. ‘Get lost, witch!’ the fat-bottomed, scabby sailor’s wife told me. Her husband is the master of the ship Tiger, and he is sailing to the Syrian city Aleppo. I will sail to his ship in a kitchen strainer, and like a rat without a tail, I will wreak havoc, and wreak havoc, and wreak havoc.”

“I’ll give thee a wind to cause a storm,” the Second Witch said.

“You are kind,” the First Witch said.

“And I will give you another wind,” the Third Witch said.

The First Witch said to the other Witches, “I myself have all the other winds, and I know all the ports and all the ships’ shelters from all the points of the compass. I will drain away the sailor’s energy. He shall not sleep, and he shall be a man accursed. For nine times nine weeks shall he decline, waste away, and long for land. Though his ship cannot be lost at sea because I lack that power, yet it shall be tempest-tossed. But, here, look what I have.”

“Show me, show me,” the Second Witch said.

“Here I have a pilot’s thumb, whose ship was wrecked as homeward he did come,” the First Witch said.

The Three Witches heard the sound of a drum.

“A drum, a drum! Macbeth does come,” the Third Witch said.

The Three Witches danced in a circle and chanted, “The Weird Sisters, hand in hand, travelers of the sea and land, thus do go about, about, thrice to thine and thrice to mine, and thrice again, to make up nine. Stop! Our charm is coiled like a trap.”

Macbeth and Banquo rode toward the Three Witches without at first seeing them.

“So foul and fair a day I have not seen,” Macbeth said. “It is fair because we have won important battles, but foul because of the weather.”

Banquo, wondering about the distance that they had left to ride to Forres, the site of King Duncan’s castle, asked, “How far is it to Forres?”

Banquo then caught sight of the Three Witches and said, “Who are these creatures? They are so withered with age and wear clothing so odd that they do not seem to be creatures of the Earth, and yet here they are.

“Are you alive?” Banquo called to the Three Witches. “Are you creatures that men may talk to and ask questions of? You seem to understand me, since each of you has put a chapped finger to your skinny lips. But are you women? You seem to be women, but your beards make me question whether you are.”

“Speak, if you can,” Macbeth ordered. “What are you?”

The First Witch said, “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!”

The Second Witch said, “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!”

The Third Witch said, “All hail, Macbeth, you who shall be King hereafter!”

Many men would consider it good news to become King, but Macbeth did not react as if the words of the Third Witch had made him happy.

“Sir, why do you react in such a way to news that does seem to be extraordinarily good?” Banquo said to Macbeth. “At first, you were startled, and then you seemed to be afraid.”

Banquo said to the Three Witches, “Are you illusions, or are you really what you seem to be? You have greeted Macbeth with honors that you say are real now and with the great honor that you say is coming to him. These honors of royalty and of hope to be King have made Macbeth silent as he contemplates your words. To me you have not spoken. If you are able to see into the future and can say who will prosper and who will not, tell me my future — the future of one who neither wants your love nor fears your hatred.”

The First Witch said, “Hail!”

The Second Witch said, “Hail!”

The Third Witch said, “Hail!”

The First Witch said, “You are lesser than Macbeth, and greater.”

The Second Witch said, “You are not so happy as Macbeth, yet much happier.”

The Third Witch said, “Your descendants will be Kings, although you yourself shall never be King. So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!”

The First Witch said, “Banquo and Macbeth, all hail!”

Macbeth said to the Three Witches, “Stay, and tell me the rest of the story. I am Thane of Glamis because my father, Sinel, died. But how can I be Thane of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor, a prosperous gentleman, is still alive. And to become King seems to be impossible, just like becoming Thane of Cawdor seems to be impossible. Tell me how you know these things. Tell me from where you learned these things. Tell me why you stopped Banquo and me on this heath and greeted us with prophecies. I demand that you answer my questions.”

The Three Witches vanished.

“The Earth must have bubbles, just as the water has,” Banquo said. “These three beings must be the bubbles of the Earth. Bubbles burst, and they vanish. Did you see where the three beings went?”

“They vanished into the air,” Macbeth said. “What seemed to be solid melted away as breath melts into the wind. I wish that they had stayed!”

“Did we really see and hear what we think we saw and heard?” Banquo asked. “Or have we eaten a poisonous plant that produces insanity?”

“Your children shall be Kings,” Macbeth said.

Banquo said, “You shall be King.”

Wanting to hear seemingly good news again, Macbeth said, “And Thane of Cawdor, too. Isn’t that what they said?”

“That is exactly what they said,” Banquo replied.

Hearing a noise, Banquo said loudly, “Who is that?”

On horseback, Ross and Angus rode up to Macbeth and Banquo.

Ross said, “Macbeth, King Duncan is pleased with the news of your successes. He has heard of your personal exploits in the battle against the rebels. He is speechless with admiration at your deeds in that battle, and yet he wishes to praise you. And you did more besides. On the same day, you were fearless as you fought the soldiers from Norway. You did not fear death as you created much death for enemy soldiers. King Duncan received message after message bearing news of your bravery in battle as you defended Scotland.”

Angus added, “King Duncan has sent us to you to bring you to him. He will reward you for your service.”

Ross said, “King Duncan told me to inform you of one of the honors you will receive from him. You are now Thane of Cawdor. Hail, most worthy Thane!”

Amazed at hearing some of the words of the Three Witches come true, Banquo said to Macbeth, “What, can Satan speak the truth?”

Macbeth said to Ross, “The old Thane of Cawdor lives. How then can I be the new Thane of Cawdor?”

Angus answered Macbeth’s question: “He who was the Thane of Cawdor still lives, but he has deservedly been sentenced to death. I don’t know whether he allied himself with the King of Norway, or whether he allied himself with the rebels, or whether he allied himself with both, but I do know that he plotted against King Duncan and Scotland. I also know that the evidence of his treasons is overwhelming and that he has confessed his treasons. Thus he is sentenced to die.”

Macbeth thought, Some of the words of the Three Witches have come true. I was already Thane of Glamis, and as the Three Witches predicted, I am now Thane of Cawdor. They also predicted that I would be King of Scotland. Perhaps that also will come true.

Macbeth said to Ross and Angus, “Thank you for this news.”

Macbeth then said quietly so that only Banquo could hear him, “Do you not hope your children shall be Kings? The Three Witches who predicted that I would be the Thane of Cawdor also promised that your children shall be Kings.”

Banquo quietly replied, “The Three Witches predicted that you would be King of Scotland as well as Thane of Cawdor. But I am suspicious. The forces of evil often tell us partial truths. They win us over with trifles, only to betray us in serious matters.”

Banquo then said to Ross and Angus, “I need to speak to you.”

As Banquo, Ross, and Angus talked among themselves, Macbeth brooded, thinking, I now have two of the titles that the Three Witches said I would have. I have the lesser titles, and the greatest title is yet to come.

Macbeth, realizing that he needed to add something to the conversation, said, “Gentlemen, I thank you.”

Then he resumed brooding: What the Three Witches told me cannot be ill, and it cannot be good. If what they said is ill, why has it started with a truth and with a valuable reward: the title of Thane of Cawdor? If what they said is good, why am I thinking things that make my hair stand on end and that make my heart beat unnaturally against my ribs? I felt less fear in the two battles I fought today than I do at the thoughts I am now having. I am thinking of a murder. The murder is still only imaginary, but it shakes me and I cannot perform any ordinary actions because my thoughts consume me. All I can think about is a murder.

Banquo said to Ross and Angus, “Look at Macbeth. He is lost in his thoughts.”

Macbeth continued brooding: If I am meant to be King of Scotland, then perhaps I will become King of Scotland without having to do anything to make that happen.

Banquo said to Ross and Angus, “He is thinking about his new honor: He is now Thane of Cawdor. After a while, he will become accustomed to that honor and wear it well, just as we become accustomed to new clothes by wearing them until they adapt to our body.”

Macbeth continued brooding: Whatever must come to pass will come to pass. I may be eager for what is to come, but if I am patient, it will eventually come.

Banquo said, “Macbeth, we are ready to leave. Are you ready?”

“Pardon me,” Macbeth said. “I was distracted by things I have already forgotten. Gentlemen, I thank you for what you have done today. I will remember you whenever I think of this day. Let us go to King Duncan.”

Macbeth then said quietly to Banquo, “Think about the Three Witches, and later let us talk about them.”

Banquo quietly replied, “Very gladly.”

“Until later, then,” Macbeth said quietly to Banquo.

Then Macbeth said loudly to all, “Let us go.”

They rode on horseback to the King.

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